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  • Author or Editor: Jesse D. Babbitz x
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Kee D. Kim, Jesse D. Babbitz and Jeffrey Mimbs

The surgical management of thoracic disc disease remains challenging. Outcomes after laminectomy had been poor, and modern posterolateral, lateral, and anterior approaches have evolved to replace this older procedure. Each has its own set of complications, and all are hampered, to varying degrees, by the limited visualization of the ventral disc space and spinal cord during decompression. The authors present their early experience with computer-assisted image guidance as an adjunctive tool for preoperative planning and navigation in the treatment of thoracic disc disease. Five consecutive patients underwent image-guided costotransversectomies between January 1999 and April 2000. The levels of herniation were T8–9 in three and T7–8 and T5–6, respectively, in the other two. There were four centrolateral herniations and one midline herniation. Three discs were soft and two hard. Two patients had previously undergone failed disc excisions. All patients had axial pain and myeloradiculopathies preoperatively. Three were unable to walk.

Four patients enjoyed good or excellent outcomes, with return of ambulation. One patient experienced only mild improvement in her severe paraparesis. Image-guidance was invaluable in planning the corpectomy and aiding visualization in situations in which the dura or disc were obscured; its use allowed successful surgical excisions in the most challenging circumstances.

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Kee D. Kim, J. Patrick Johnson and Jesse D. Babbitz


Thoracic pedicle screw fixation is effective and reliable in providing short-segment stabilization. Although the procedure is becoming more widely used, accurate insertion of the screws is difficult due to the small dimensions of thoracic pedicles, and the associated risk is high due to the proximity of the spinal cord. In previous studies authors have shown the accuracy of image-guided lumbar pedicle screw placement, but there have been no reported investigations into the accuracy of image-guided thoracic pedicle screw placement. The authors report their experience with such an investigation.


To evaluate the accuracy of image-guided thoracic pedicle screw placement in vitro and in vivo, thoracic pedicle screws were placed with an image-guidance system in five human cadavers and 10 patients. In cadavers, the accuracy of screw placement was assessed by postoperative computerized tomography and visual inspection and in patients by postoperative imaging studies. Of the 120 pedicle screws placed in five cadavers pedicle violation occurred in 23 cases (19.2%); there was one pedicle violation (4.2%) in each of the last two cadavers. Of the 45 pedicle screws placed in 10 patients, pedicle violations occurred in three (6.7%).


In comparison with historical controls, the accuracy of thoracic pedicle screw placement is improved with the use of an image-guidance system. It allows the surgeon to visualize the thoracic pedicle and the surrounding structures that are normally out of the surgical field of view. The surgeon, however, must be aware of the limitations of an image-guidance system and have a sound basic knowledge of spinal anatomy to avoid causing serious complications.